News Primer: What's In The New Keno Bill?

Feb 18, 2015

Lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on a House bill to bring keno to New Hampshire bars and restaurants. Sponsors say the electronic game could raise some $8.5 million annually for education, while Gov. Maggie Hassan’s two-year budget projects $26 million in keno revenue.

NHPR’s digital journalist Brian Wallstin reported on keno legislation a year ago that died in the Senate, and he joins us now to give us an update on this year’s proposal.

For those who may not know, remind us exactly what keno is.

This explainer details how keno works
Credit Sara Plourde for NHPR

It’s really no different than most multi-number lottery games. You pick one or more numbers, or spots, between one and 80, mark your choices on a betting slip and give it to a clerk. A computer then generates 20 random numbers and displays them on a video screen. The more matches you have, the higher the payout.

Last year, the house passed a keno bill, but it failed in the senate. One reason was the senate wanted a full-blown casino - as Governor Hassan has called for in the past. Has that equation changed this year?

Not at all. Gov. Hassan reiterated just today her support for a single casino, and Senator Lou D’Allesandro has introduced, once again, a bill that calls for two casinos.

But it could be some time before the state sees any revenue from a casino, whereas Keno could be up and running pretty quickly.

What about the bill this year? Are there substantial differences between the legislation last year and this new measure?

No, this year’s keno bill is basically the same as last year’s.

It assumes the Lottery Commission will issue 250 licenses to “pouring establishments” – those are restaurants with liquor licenses. It estimates sales of almost $44 million a year – 70 percent will be paid out in prizes, eight percent to the license holder, one percent to treat and prevent gambling disorders, and the rest to the state’s education trust fund.

There is language in this year’s bill that gives cities and towns the option to approve or reject keno through a ballot measure or warrant article.

Supporters say the best reason to allow keno in New Hampshire is that a lot of Granite Staters are already playing in Massachusetts. 

That’s true. Six of the top 10 Keno outlets in Massachusetts are not far from the New Hampshire border. Lottery Commissioner Charlie McIntyre – who was deputy director of the Massachusetts State Lottery when Keno was introduced down there in 1993 – says New Hampshire residents spend $24 million a year on the game.

On the other hand, critics are contending Massachusetts offers something of a cautionary tale on the lure of expanded gambling.

That’s right. Officials there initially tried to restrict Keno to pouring establishments. But the game proved so popular that when the state had a budget crisis, those restrictions were lifted, new versions of the game were introduced and sales were expanded to every lottery retailer in the state.

Today you can play keno at 6,000 locations in Massachusetts and bet as much as $1200 on a single draw.

Related: This map details the top selling keno locations in Massachusetts

Top selling keno agents in Massachusetts. Data: Massachusetts State Lottery
Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR